Written by Vincenzo Mannino, Lucio Marcaccini, and Josè Sanchez
Directed by Lucio Marcaccini
In 1975, Bud Cort, high from his recent success as Harold in Harold & Maude, decided to don a rough goatee and follow a trail of money that ended at a psychedelic passion project from a no-name director. In some ways, Hallucination Strip could remind one of the recent Under the Skin insomuch that Cort’s baby-face and mustachio combo along with his heavy Italian ADR give him the image of a well-blended alien amongst the Roman hippies. Alas, Cort scurries along with them in a battered tale of sex, drugs, and petty theft — sadly human after all. With Kino’s Raro Video division release of Hallucination Strip on Blu-ray, audiences today can experience Eurocrime cinema with Hollywood star flair ending in predictably disastrous results.
Strip sees the Italian 1970s as the final stakes in the coffin of hippiedom. Gone are the days of revolt and political consciousness — the high school kids here wave their Communist flags as a signal of their youth and division from their old, rich parents. Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll has been boiled down to a lot of drugs and some sex (if you’re not incapacitated). In the middle of this battle for freedom and consumption lies Bud Cort’s Massimo, a revolutionary willing to fight for his right to have a good time and do whatever he likes, often to impress girlfriend Cinzia. His early whimsical act of stealing a valuable snuff box from one of his wealthy friends’ parents leads inspector De Stefani (Marcel Bozzuffi of The French Connection) to track Massimo’s moves in hopes of pinning his connection to underground druglord “The Sicilian.” Along the way, Massimo provides drugs for an extravagant party hosted by affluent, unhinged friend Rudy (Settimio Segnatelli) leading to a hallucination sequence of “student-film-that’s-way-too-into-Jodorowsky” proportions. As the Sicilian begins to feel the heat of De Stefani’s snooping, he places a hit on Massimo, putting the inspector in a moral quandary and a race against time.
Except it’s never really that exciting. Cort’s performance switches between stagnant and unusually sweaty, perhaps as a result of conflating his call-to-fame role and the new position of leading a hippie crime thriller. Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem: the film often leaves Cort in favor of Bozzuffi, supposedly the more interesting character as he’s privy to the whole scheme and is asked to refer to the moral problem of the drug business. He doesn’t think weed is that bad, nor does he really care about the theft of the snuff box to which he’s been tasked; rather, he cares a lot about halting the longstanding career of the Sicilian with little regard to the lives lost in the process. But even this seems disingenuous and stale — his intentions serve the plot so we eventually find the Sicilian and get a warped sense of closure, but his actions (indirectly orchestrating a death) are never questioned outside brief remarks by Massimo finding it objectionable. He’s left cold — not for emotional or aesthetic affectations, but simply because he’s a hollow necessity to a crime story that can only partially recall what made cold noir investigators invigorating. A half-second reaction shot showing De Stefani’s realization of his negligence at the very end of the film is all that humanizes him, yet even this is played more as a last-minute, half-thought addition than a meaningful coda. The film squanders around without a meaningful central character, leaving the interesting focus upon the supporting roles — including a birdkeeping assassin, the Indomaniac Rudy, the legion of party dancers, and the charming Cinzia. However, either our time with these characters are cut drastically short, or, in the case of Cinzia, the camera is too preoccupied with how they look naked instead of how they could contribute to the course of the film.
Sure, Cinzia’s body could be on display, because it’s a film about bodies. Ultimately, there’s a sort of riveting fascination about seeing hyper-sexualized bodies and drug usage on screen at this point in film history as a continued reaction to the puritanism of Hays Code Hollywood. Even if that was the defense at play, it still lacks the rigor of meaningful protest and behaves more like a child imitating its older sibling against their parents’ restrictions — it loses meaning when the pathway for exploitation has been already carved, pacifying any violent image. This child-to-parent analogy is no accident as it provides the visually interesting distinction in the film. Rudy’s family lives in a white and gold manor filled with ornate objects and omnipresent proof of their bourgeois license, while the hippies surround themselves in strong colors, usually red, until surrounded by blackness in their trips. If there is any saving grace in this film, it is by the grace of the wonderful set design that crafts an engaging world of bourgeois and child-of-bourgeois Rome. It can’t quite save the guesswork cinematography nor can it put soul into Massimo or De Stefani, but it’s something to rest your eyes upon while the characters fumble around.
In the extras section of the release, editor Giulio Berruti remarks how troubling the film was from the second he was given the reigns to the film’s premiere. Director Lucio Marcaccini was 46 and directing his first film, or rather, paid a large sum of money and expected a film to just happen. Berruti describes finding and working with unusable footage and a bewildered Bud Cort, who barely spoke a word of Italian. He managed to create something from the footage he was given, but quick shots of empty faces and meaningless gestures show the amount of filler necessary to craft the mess into a coherent mess. Even the most inspired scene, Rudy’s trip, depends solely on crassly symbolic images ending with Rudy literally becoming one with nature (and with my finger hovering steadily over the eject button). Marcaccini’s vision of hippiedom and drug usage are laughably parodic, but also dangerously contemptuous by never affirming their humanity. Thus, their dark descent is much less noir-influenced eurocrime and more Reefer Madness.
What does Hallucination Strip mean? Nothing, really: the early distributors chose the title for marketing purposes. That’s what the film is: a product for a market that no longer exists, boiled down to the sex and drugs and revolution for its own self-pitying sake.
— Zach Lewis